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As Ravens' Quarterback Controversy Simmers, Huge Decision Looms

November 19, 2018
I'll get it out of the way quickly. If it were up to me, Lamar Jackson would be the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback moving forward. Of course, that's not really saying much. I've thought Jackson should be the starter dating all the way back to the moment they selected him with the 32nd pick in the NFL Draft. 

If you think you need to draft a quarterback in the first round and you think a quarterback is good enough to be selected in the first round, I think that quarterback needs to play immediately. So I wouldn't suddenly change my mind after a solid performance in his starting debut. 

This quarterback controversy in Baltimore is just about the quarterback controvers-iest. Like a weekend in New York with Stefon, it "has everything." 

- A much-maligned, decade-long franchise quarterback (and popular internet meme) whose resume includes a Super Bowl MVP and one of the greatest postseason runs ever but whose contract and struggles have been the source of frustration

- A rookie quarterback who was a somewhat controversial first-round pick and also happens to be a bit of a cultural phenomenon because of his historic, Heisman Trophy-winning collegiate career and whose skill set couldn't possibly be much different than the previous starter

- A head coach who the franchise reportedly plans to move on from if he misses the playoffs again this season -- or whose fate may already be determined via some sort of arrangement to part ways 

- An offensive coaching staff that has struggled to consistently put together a quality offense (particularly in the ground game this season) led by a coordinator who couldn't possibly be less popular in town

- A fan base that is desperate for success and entertaining football but remains divided about whether the younger quarterback is closer to "the future of football" or "not really a quarterback"

- Oh, and a racial undertone to all of this that a lot of people would prefer to not have to address

Am I missing anything? 

Look, whatever your opinion of Jackson was before the Ravens' 24-21 win against the Cincinnati Bengals Nov. 18, I'm going to guess your opinion is roughly the same after. 

Jackson certainly played well enough. He made just a couple of horrendous mistakes -- an atrocious interception and the decision to run out of bounds when the Ravens had the ball late in the fourth quarter. The Ravens had the lead and they would have been well served to keep the clock running. (An awful sidearm pass to receiver Chris Moore probably should have had worse results, but credit Moore for one of the most acrobatic receptions in team history.)

Outside of that, his performance was somewhere between "workmanlike" and "solid." The Ravens didn't ask Jackson to do much as a passer and he made a ton of plays with his legs. Perhaps in direct relation to his presence (or perhaps not), the run game finally got going as well. 

Did the Ravens limit what Jackson would be asked to do as a passer because they were afraid of what might happen if they didn't? Or did they reasonably try to mold a game plan around their opponent while taking into consideration Jackson's skill set, lack of experience and the fact that he missed a day of preparation due to illness?

If you're part of "Team Lamar," not only do you believe it's the latter, you can't believe how anyone wouldn't see it's the far more reasonable scenario. If you're more "Team [Joe] Flacco," you think the former could be what prevents Jackson from ever becoming a truly special quarterback at the NFL level -- and even if the latter is also true, you believe it to be a combination of both. 

In an attempt to be as reasonable as possible, and as a person who greatly respects Flacco and believes Jackson should be the quarterback, here's my most honest assessment (and yeah, it's roughly the same as I felt before the game): Jackson is an electrifying talent, but there's just no world in which an NFL quarterback can be running the ball 27 times a game. 

As Ravens head coach John Harbaugh admitted during his postgame interview with WBAL Radio, it's simply "unsustainable." Even bigger players would take too much punishment doing that to be able to hold up. 

The hope from what we saw against the Bengals is that as Jackson moves forward, this staff (or whatever staff works with him) will be able to create an offense that better reflects the need to take advantage of his skill set but also meets a more realistic balance of what a quarterback can do in the NFL. 

But that doesn't answer the pressing question. While Flacco is unlikely to be available for the team's next game, the Ravens could have a decision to make come Week 13 when they travel to Atlanta. Considering their next game is against the Raiders (who are abysmal), it's likely that Jackson will look good again, although it's still unlikely the Ravens will open up the playbook to the point that we're convinced he's the second coming of Fran Tarkenton. 

So with potential playoff hopes and quite possibly coaching futures potentially at stake, which quarterback will the Ravens turn to? The Indianapolis Colts in particular don't look like a team that will be falling off any time soon, so the Ravens are going to need to win as many games as possible down the stretch.

It's easy for us to want the quarterback to be Jackson. He's the shiny new toy. He's the guy whose jersey we're going to be wearing to games for the foreseeable future. He's the guy whose success we're just a bit more invested in. 

But none of our jobs are at stake if Jackson's just not ready to put up the type of performance that may potentially be necessary to win a shootout with the Falcons in Atlanta. The Ravens' coaches don't have that same benefit. Their decision (which will be ungodly scrutinized should it not work out) could prove to be the ultimate deciding factor in their own fates. 

This is rich. It's as decadent as Aunt Carol's Chocolate Pecan Pie. We'll have two weeks to talk about it, but we still might not have the "right" answer. 

But I hope the Ravens do. 

Follow Glenn Clark on Twitter @GlennClarkRadio

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox